Britain’s most powerful counterterrorism police officer resigned Thursday, a day after being photographed holding a document marked “SECRET” that outlined details of a major anti-terrorism operation. The resignation is the latest embarrassment for the Metropolitan Police Service, which is also being investigated for its handling of, and possible responsibility for, the death of a passer-by during protests at last week’s G20 meetings.
Both cases hinged on photographs and videotape taken by reporters and members of the public and disseminated by the news media and on the Internet.
The resignation of the counter-terrorism officer, Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick, came after he was seen carrying a document titled, “Briefing Note: Operation PATHWAY,” while on his way to a Downing Street security briefing. Referring to the terror network of al-Qaida, the document sketched out a plan to arrest 11 people at seven addresses in northwest England as part of a “a security service-led investigation into suspected AQ-driven attack planning within the U.K.”
Because of the disclosure, captured by photographers with telephoto lenses, anti-terrorism officers had to carry out the operation many hours earlier than planned, the police said. Hundreds of officers took part in raids around Manchester, Liverpool and Lancashire on Wednesday afternoon. They detained 12 people on suspicion of being part of what Prime Minister Gordon Brown called “a very big terrorist plot” that the security services had been “following for some time.”
The British news media reported that the group had been planning attacks this weekend on targets like a shopping center in downtown Manchester. But Peter Fahy, the chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, told reporters that “there is no particular threat against any particular location.”
Ten of the people in custody are Pakistani citizens, and one is British-born, Fahy said. None has been formally charged. Quick said in a statement: “I deeply regret the disruption caused to colleagues undertaking the operation.”
Meanwhile, pressure mounted on the Metropolitan Police Service to explain itself over the death of Ian Tomlinson, a 47-year-old newspaper vendor who suffered a fatal heart attack on April 1, during protests at the G20 meetings. The police originally said that they had had no contact with Tomlinson, who had been trying to get home and was not a protester, until they gave him emergency medical treatment and put him in an ambulance after he fell ill.
But a number of witnesses have since come forward to the news media to contradict what the police said, backing up their claims with photographs and videotape of the incident, in London’s financial district. One piece of video, whose existence was first reported in The Guardian newspaper, showed Tomlinson apparently being hit in the back from behind with a baton wielded by a police officer in riot gear.
That video was taken by a 38-year-old investment manager from New York, who said he had attended the protests out of curiosity.